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There are tons of travel questions swirling around our Women Who Travel Instagram DMs and Facebook group these days, especially as we watch COVID-19 vaccines roll out and let ourselves start dreaming of those first big trips. To answer your questions this week—which range from where to go for a milestone birthday trip and the best credit card to help rack up points for future trips, to what the reality of immunity passports could look like—we tapped Traveler articles director Stephanie Wu and transportation editor Jessica Puckett.
Plus, stick around at the end of our conversation to hear where some of our listeners are already planning to visit when it’s safe to do so. Want to share your own future travel plans? Email a voice memo to [email protected] with your name, where you’re based, and what you’re planning, and you might hear yourself in an upcoming episode.
Thanks to listeners Lydia, Karolina, and Suzanne for sharing their future plans and to Stephanie and Jessica for doling out advice with us. Thanks, as always, to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing this episode. As a reminder, you can listen to new episodes of Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, every Wednesday.
Read a full transcription of the episode below.
Lale Arikoglu: Hi everyone, and welcome to Women Who Travel, a podcast from Condé Nast Traveler. I’m Lale Arikoglu and with me, as always, is my co-host, Meredith Carey.
Meredith Carey: Hello.
LA: This week we’re answering the questions you’ve been asking on Instagram and in our Facebook group. To help us dole out advice are Traveler’s transportation editor, Jessica Puckett…
Jessica Puckett: Hi.
LA: … and articles director, Stephanie Wu.
Stephanie Wu: Hey, guys.
MC: Before we get into the questions that our listeners asked, I’d love to know when you both are planning your first big trips back out there?
SW: I feel like I’ve been just anxiously awaiting this moment where I can plan my next big trip for so long now. And I’m still very cautiously optimistic, but for me, I’m looking toward late summer, maybe late July, early August for, I would call it like a shorter trip, so maybe Caribbean, maybe Mexico. And then I’m really going whole hog on next Christmas and thinking about that right now, because I think it’s our best bet for a truly larger family gathering.
MC: Jess, how about you?
JP: Yeah, I’m kind of thinking the same thing, Steph. Actually, my family is planning a sort of reunion in the Caribbean, hopefully for July. We have targeted St. Lucia. My dad has planned this all with cancel for any reason insurance, all this stuff. So very, very optimistically hoping this happens. But I have noticed it makes such a difference—whether this happens or not—just having something to look forward to and maybe look up what there is to do in St. Lucia or restaurants or things like that. And it just really has improved my mood.
MC: I feel like, Steph, you have the most post-travel glow of any of us because you have taken a big trip recently. How are you feeling now almost a month after what was a month-long trip to Taiwan to see your family?
SW: I feel like just having that reset and being away and then coming back was a total game changer for my mood, and also is helping me get through the winter. And I know that I’m super lucky to have had that. But I’m totally with Jess in that, I’m a planner and so I get excited by planning. So the thing that is really keeping me going and, as you guys can see right now, I’m smiling. It’s because I can think about future travels and what is on the horizon and have something to really look forward to. And I pretty much would say I’m always thinking about what my next trip is, which I’m sure podcast listeners are as well.
LA: Wait, Meredith, what are you planning? Have you let yourself plan yet?
MC: I feel like I have not let myself pick a specific trip yet to settle on and really start planning, but I’m definitely thinking about the summer. I’m thinking about the fall. I’m thinking about using all my vacation days really wisely and planning maybe a couple full week trips. I haven’t decided where yet, but we’ll see. How about you, other than going home?
LA: Well, my mom just got her vaccine today, so I was texting her about once she’s had her second dose, and both my parents have, I was like, maybe I can actually book a flight for right after that. It’s starting to feel real. Anyway.
My best friend was supposed to get married in the Caribbean last April, and now that wedding has been pushed to November. So I think regardless of what I’m going to try and do in the summer, which I’m also seeing on my timeline as the first time I can take a good international trip, is going to be Antigua in November. And I feel like this wedding has been postponed and postponed, and everyone who was attending that wedding, this trip is like their lifeline at the moment to get them through the next few months, and I think it’s going to be totally wild. But I’m kind of in the same boat as you, Meredith. I feel overwhelmed by choice in a way. It’s like we’re going from having nowhere to go to suddenly we will, at some point, have an overwhelming number of options.
MC: And I feel like I’ve been thinking so small recently and still taking trips to places I can drive or much smaller domestic trips, not even big week-long domestic trips, but little long weekend trips. And I think I just need to really shift my thinking for the second half of this year to go big.
SW: And for others who are kind of in a similar boat, I think one key is… The where is important, but the who is so important as well. I’ve had this weekly Zoom call with my college friends since March—frankly, I’m incredibly impressed that we’ve kept it going—and we’ve recently started talking about what does the fall trip look like where we just all leave from our respective home bases and meet somewhere convenient, and we don’t really care where, we just want a house or Airbnb, where we can all hang out and be together. And that’s really going to be the driving impetus behind planning what looks like it could be a September or October trip—as opposed to how I used to plan trips, which was, “I really want to go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
MC: And then you tell people that you’re going there and then maybe they’ll hop on, but not the other way around.
LA: I think that’s such an interesting point. I think that when we’re looking ahead to these first trips, the destination is oddly, I don’t think, going to be the priority for most people. I think it is going to be about who you’re with and how you’re able to get people together, and then the destination is almost like an added perk at the end.
MC: This kind of goes into our first question from Greta in the Facebook group, which was looking to the future. What research do you guys do to get familiar with a new destination before you travel? What are your go-tos, beyond the actual trip planning?
JP: For me, definitely it’s things to do. And at the top of my list are restaurants, bars, that type of thing. I will also, if there’s a foreign language, I will try to learn at least a few phrases or put some things together, because I feel like that opens a lot of doors or kind of ingratiates you in a way that is really fun and warm. But yeah, I would say definitely looking at planning my meals as my major go-to.
SW: I actually think this is a great example of how COVID is really changing things for the long term in ways that we haven’t previously thought of before. Because when I think about my answer to this question, the first thing I’m thinking about is checking on various countries or states or destinations and seeing how they’ve protected their citizens during the pandemic, and what’s their track record of vaccinations and safety, and all of that suddenly has become a huge priority for me, and I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.
But aside from that, I’m like Jess, I do a ton of research. I’ll plot out the top places where I want to go and make sure I’m staying in a neighborhood that’s convenient. I’ll check with friends or experts who have visited recently or those that live there. And then if I’m visiting a city, I almost always try and sign up for a walking tour on the first day or so, just to get a good lay of the land and meet a local who can share their own recommendations with me as well.
MC: I feel like something that I’ve been finding myself doing more recently, and I don’t know if you can speak to this, Jess, because I know you love foreign language TV too, but I feel like I have been watching tons of shows and movies set in the places that I want to go. A ton of Brazilian shows, a ton of Spanish language shows. I don’t know, I feel like I am going to begin this evening—very exciting—my foray into K-dramas. So buckle up, everyone. I feel like that has given me such a sense of place that I’ve been looking for and has really inspired the places that I think I want to go, because all I’m doing right now is just consuming content in books and TV shows and movies.
JP: That is definitely true for me too. Especially the streaming, I went on a huge kick of Scandinavian political dramas and crimes and stuff. That doesn’t sound like the biggest travel draw, watching a crime show. But I was just like, “I need to go to Norway. I need to see all this Nordic architecture and all this stuff.” I love doing that, yeah.
SW: It certainly speaks to the fact that anything could inspire a trip, and especially now. It’s like one incredible dish that you get take-out from a restaurant or just one excellent TV series and that can kind of be the kickoff for a whole destination getaway.
LA: Priya Krishna wrote a story for us a few weeks ago where she spoke to a whole range of female chefs about the places that they can’t wait to eat. And for me, that was such great, just, travel inspiration and made me think about the restaurants that I want to basically plan a vacation around. And I think going back to that point about researching food and researching the restaurants and the markets and all the places where you just want to eat your way through is a huge part of planning a trip for me, and also just getting excited about the trip and making it feel real. I love to, when I start to kind of map out what I’m going to eat, to actually put pins in the map on my phone. So that when I’m on the ground, firstly, I’m not met by this sort of overwhelming blankness of option again. I feel like I keep going back to this thing of having too many options. But you sort of forget all the research you’ve done. And then also if you do end up turning data off on your phone, you can actually still see where you want to go eat, which is a very handy tool for me.
So speaking of travel inspiration, we actually had a similar question from both Zita and Jennifer in the Facebook group, asking how to plan a milestone birthday and how to get inspiration for planning a milestone birthday trip. And I personally have actually never planned one for myself or someone else. I’m interested to know whether any of you have.
SW: I love that you guys are thinking about this because this is exactly where we are as editors in terms of thinking about travel priorities for when we all are back out there a little bit more, is what are the main reasons we’ll be traveling, and we do think that traveling to see family and traveling to celebrate a milestone, whether that’s a birthday or a honeymoon or a postponed babymoon or family reunion, whatever it might be, is one of the main reasons that we’ll get everybody back out there again.
So in February this month, we’ve got a big package coming out on celebration travel that’s dedicated to all of this, with tons of incredible ideas for birthday trips. Maybe you’re celebrating 41 instead of 40 because you had to wait an extra year, but that doesn’t mean your celebration should be any less special. We’ve got ideas, we’ve got expert advice, we’ve got step-by-step planning guides for the most stressful things, like family reunions where you have to deal with young children and perhaps grandparents with very varying needs. So we’ve got you covered. We’ll make sure there’s a link in the show notes.
But just to speak a little bit more to personal experience, I planned a big milestone birthday for a group of friends and myself a few years back. And we just started essentially by thinking about what our biggest travel priorities were. And we knew that because we were all coming from a bunch of different places, we wanted to be living in the same space so that we could spend as much time as possible together. And that meant essentially renting a huge villa that could house 12 of us, and still be at a destination that allowed for plenty of adventures.
So we reached out to villa specialists and settled on south of Spain, which was fantastic. We prioritized having a villa with a pool because we wanted to be able to hang out at the villa all day and not feel too much pressure to go on day trips, which we obviously did as well just because that area where we were in, Ronda, allowed us to get to Málaga and Seville, and all these other places. So I think when it comes to planning a trip, think about who you’re going to be traveling with. Maybe it’s an incredible solo trip and you’re just splurging on yourself, or maybe you’re going with a big group of friends like I did. And then start there then think about the destination.
And then don’t over-pack your schedule because you’re celebrating and you want to leave some room for spontaneity, you want to leave some room for late nights out when we can do that again, and sleeping in and all of that. So that’s how I would approach kind of these bigger, more exciting, bigger budget trips, essentially.
MC: I love this gallery that Rachel Chang put together for us that has specific birthday ideas. We’re recording this in what will be the past for you, and I think the package went up yesterday, in the future. But this story about birthday ideas, I liked what you were saying, Steph, if it’s your 41st birthday, don’t limit yourself to only being able to celebrate your 40th. But the 40th suggestion is like a food tour extravaganza of Naples. I turn 30 in two years and I am fully expecting all of my friends to come with me on that trip.
LA: I think given that the last year feels a little bit like a lost year, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to just stay 40 for an extra year. I think there’s going to be a lot of people just deciding to be like, “That didn’t count. I’m going to do it again.”
SW: I think eating pizza through Naples sounds like the best possible way to celebrate turning 40, so I’m in.
JP: I actually turn 30 this year. Not until December, but it is this year. And as you all know, I famously had to cancel my Italy trip when COVID first struck. So that sounds amazing to me, somewhere warm, south of Italy, eating pizza and pasta. That might have to go on my list as well.
LA: Sounds like the dream.
MC: Man. December birthdays. I have one too. They’re the best.
LA: Also, if listeners are interested, Steph and myself have the same birthday.
MC: The same birthday.
SW: We have the same hot, middle of summer birthday, and these other two have cold December birthdays. And I think we win.
LA: Yes. And we also share our birthday with Prince George and Selena Gomez.
MC: Wow, everyone will be able to wish you happy birthday now because they can Google your birthday.
LA: As they should.
MC: I have never planned a major birthday trip, mostly because of the time my birthday falls. I really enjoy being able to spend it with my family and then celebrate it again with my friends when I come back to the city after Christmas, and then probably celebrate it again in January, just for kicks. But I will say, I also love my half-birthday because it is in the middle of the summer. And when I was growing up for a short time in Florida, it meant that I could have a pool party if I celebrated my half-birthday instead of my actual birthday. So this year in June, that is what I’m thinking in the summer, of taking some sort of celebration trip, is to celebrate being 28 and a half because it feels like a worthwhile time to celebrate.
SW: Not that we need any more reasons to travel, but I think that this is the year of finding every possible reason to celebrate something and just enjoy these freedoms that we’ve been missing for a little bit. And I love the idea of just not even needing a reason, just getting out there and planning that big trip.
MC: I’m just going to list out some of the other suggestions that Rachel made for birthdays, which range from Costa Rica, to Memphis, to going on a Mississippi River cruise, to the Berkshires, go all out in Patagonia or the Galápagos. You really have the whole world to choose from. And it can be just such a fun time to travel. Another way to travel that maybe isn’t solo travel, but it is all about you. So, happy medium.
LA: I think the message is be kind to yourself and do something nice for yourself.
MC: I want to get into more logistic-y questions, now that we’ve gotten some inspo knocked out. Ronja messaged us on Instagram and asked what the best way to get a COVID test within 48 hours is, because so many countries, including the U.S., are requiring them now to return. Steph, I know you have traveled recently, I have also traveled recently and had to get tested ahead of travel, but what is your advice?
SW: So Mere knows a lot more about all the hotels and all the different regulations that are going on, but my biggest advice… So I’ll start big and I’ll let her fill in some more details. My biggest advice, of course, is to check with your travel specialist or whoever’s planning your trip, or check with the hotel you’re staying at. They will have up-to-date guidelines and they’ll be tapped in on local resources where you can get a test, how much it’s going to cost, how quickly that test will come back to you. All of these are important for whatever paperwork you have to show at the airport.
And then most importantly, I think this is often overlooked, make sure you’re getting the results in a language that is accepted by your destination country. Almost pretty much every country will state that, or any hospital I should say, will state that they’ll do the results in English, but you should always double-check whatever entry requirements are as well.
MC: Like Steph was saying, a lot of hotels and resorts will know the best place for you to go, but a lot of them are actually now offering testing onsite. So a lot of resorts in the Caribbean and in South America are offering onsite COVID tests, usually at a small fee, anywhere between $50 and $150 dollars. Some hotels are even offering credits to guests, which will cover the cost of those tests. So those credits you could either use towards the test or use towards an upgrade, it’s really up to you.
But a lot of places are now offering testing, knowing that to get back into most of North America—so Canada and the U.S.—and then other countries in Europe, really everywhere actually. A lot of places are requiring tests. So most hotels in the Caribbean and resorts will be able to help you without you having to necessarily even leave your room or the property.
The other thing I will say is there are a number of states—Hawaii, New York, Alaska—who are requiring testing either to enter or to get out of an extended quarantine. And again, I would look to local news sources to help you find out the best place to get them where you are.
SW: And I think a few more points just to be aware of, these rules and these guidelines are constantly changing. So you do want to be checking them pretty regularly before you get on a plane.
MC: And during your trip, honestly.
SW: During your trip. We’ve talked about this a little bit, but certainly, even if you’ve got a negative test, you might want to consider quarantining for a few days once you get somewhere, just to be utterly safe and make sure no symptoms develop after you travel. So I think it’s all about personal comfort level. I personally err on the side of being super cautious, especially having been to Taiwan like we talked about earlier, where the quarantine rules are incredibly strict. Should you need to travel, I think you want to make sure you’re really staying safe, protecting yourself, protecting everyone around you, and those you might come into contact with.
LA: I think to someone who hasn’t done any travel in the past year, hearing all this, can, I imagine, sound a little bit overwhelming. What would you say to people who are maybe having to take a trip for some reason and just feel totally daunted by this process?
JP: I would just say, take it one piece at a time. Don’t feel too overwhelmed with your airline saying, what the destination is saying, all of that. A travel specialist can help, if you have the resources for that stuff. As Steph was saying, they can help you research the local guidelines, coordinate all this stuff for you.
From an airline airport perspective, they are really creating all these new online tools, online apps, to help keep track of all these guidelines and restrictions for the destinations where you’re going. And they’re even doing things like helping you find test sites around the world. United Airlines is launching something later this month, it’s basically a directory of 15,000 acceptable testing sites in all their markets where they fly, to help you keep track of all this. Delta has also launched something similar on its website. So I think there are a lot of resources that you can use to synthesize all of this information and not feel so overwhelmed by it all.
MC: I would also just say, I know that in both of these cases we’ve been talking about trips that you need to take, but both the state department and the CDC are still saying, as of the time of we’re recording, that we should be reconsidering non-essential travel abroad, and also postponing trips just for the safety of ourselves and those around us. So if you need to take a trip, please be as well-educated as possible about what you need to do to actually get there and get home.
Speaking of flying travel requirements, Donna in the group was curious what everyone in the group was thinking about potential vaccine passports, immunity certificates, used to prove that you’ve had both doses of the COVID vaccine, and what that could mean for travel and entry into countries around the world. As someone who has traveled with her yellow fever vaccine card for years, I don’t think it’s that wild, but would love to know what you guys think.
JP: I think it’s going to happen. I think it will be a requirement. And we’re already seeing it pop up in different places in the world. Europe—especially Denmark and Sweden—they have already previewed their plans for requiring this of their citizens and from travelers. Qantas, the Australian airline, their CEO said at the end of last year that they’re looking into adding a vaccine passport requirement to their terms and conditions. So I kind of feel like once the legal hurdles have been cleared, then it will be very widespread.
From a U.S. airline perspective, we’re seeing the addition of health apps, not necessarily for proof of vaccine yet, it’s more for the negative COVID test results. Things like VeriFLY or CommonPass. A lot of airlines in the U.S. are collaborating with these two. But all these apps do have the capabilities to show your vaccine status, your vaccine results, as well. So I think they’re preparing, and once it’s legal and figured out, the switch will flip and it will be required.
SW: I have to say it’s so heartening to see countries and airlines really taking the lead again on how are you going to protect flight crew and workers and citizens. And also, last month, President Biden called on various departments to work together on looking at what a similar vaccine passport or immunity certificate might look like here in the U.S. So there’s definitely work being done.
What I’m most curious to see is how countries might change their tourism policies as well, as they vaccinate their own populations. So for instance, the Seychelles is a good example. They’re currently open to Americans only if you’re vaccinated. However, they, as a country, are projecting that the majority of their adults will be vaccinated by mid-March. And at that point, they plan to open much more fully to tourism. So obviously, smaller population, it’s an island, it’s easier to control. But I think we’ll see a lot of movement toward the countries that feel that they are able to protect themselves from the virus, rethinking tourism in the months ahead.
LA: It’s also just kind of like what you were saying about how testing and that whole process can sound really overwhelming, and take it one step at a time. The phrase vaccine passport, I think, can also sound very daunting. It feels like this unknown thing that we’ve never had to navigate before. But Meredith, as you pointed out, there are plenty of countries, which you have to show proof of vaccination when you arrive. If you apply for a visa, you have to say which vaccinations you’ve had. And also, just to travel to certain countries, for your own safety, you want to be vaccinated before you go there.
So it actually isn’t new. If you told me six months ago that we would be recording a podcast where we’re talking about the vaccine, I think I would have burst into tears. It is extraordinary that we’re at this point. It’s exciting. I think the fact that we’re talking about vaccine passports is exciting. It shows that we’re going to have the freedom to move around again.
Okay, so, anyone who’s listened to this podcast knows how terrible I am when it comes to money and credit cards.
MC: Some day you’re going to have learned so much from being the host of this podcast that you won’t have to say that anymore.
LA: I’m armed with the tools at this point. But Rachel in the group dropped a question in, asking what’s the best credit card to get the offers travel rewards on flights and hotels and so on. Also says, “Would love something that can help me fly with Delta cheaper.” I don’t know if that’s possible, but Jess, I feel that you probably have a few thoughts on this.
JP: Yes. So if you’re looking to earn points across both airlines and hotels, you’re going to want a credit card that’s really flexible and has transferable points. So the two big ones that I really like—well I guess the two big banks that I really like that these cards come from—are Chase and American Express. They are really flexible. They have a ton of transfer partners through airlines, hotels, all the big ones.
If you really are interested in Delta specifically, you would want to do an Amex card. They have the co-brand agreement with Amex, so that would be Amex Platinum or Amex Gold. I personally just got the Amex Gold this year, or I guess it was the end of last year, and I’m loving it. I’m ordering in a lot, and of course buying groceries, and those are both bonus points there. The Amex Gold earns four points per dollar spent in both of those. It does come with a $250 annual fee, but I think with all the perks that you get and the absolute, just crazy amount of points that you earn on these categories makes it worth it. So maybe look into that. And then of course, Delta does have specific airline cards. So if you’re looking for things like priority boarding and access to their lounges, I would look into those.
SW: Yeah, I was going to say, obviously, Jess’s advice is great. And I think there are, as she mentioned, specific Delta cards that you can get that help you rack up miles really quickly, so that when you’re ready to book, you can hopefully offset a lot of that expense by using the accrued miles. But as always with all things credit cards, you want to make sure that you can pay off every bill. And ideally, you want to make sure you have some kind of big purchase coming in that allows you to take advantage of that welcome offer. So some kind of big purchase you can make in the next few months so that you can get that welcome offer and then start thinking about how you can put all those bonus miles to good use.
So we’ve got tons of guides on the website for how to use Chase Ultimate Rewards or how to use Amex points and maximize them so you’re not just offsetting costs, but you’re actually getting the best possible value. And it all gets a little nerdy and very numbers focused, but it does sound like, Rachel, you’re someone who wants to get to know this world and dip a toe into it, so I think having a flight to look forward to as the reason why you’re doing all, is a great reason to jump into the world of credit cards.
MC: Well, thank you both for your great advice. If people want to follow your summer and fall journeys, where can they find you on social media? Steph?
SW: I’m @bystephwu.
JP: I’m on Twitter @jesspuck.
MC: I’m @ohheytheremere.
LA: You can find me @lalehannah. Before we wrap up the episode, we’re passing the mic to you, the listeners to find out where your dreaming of traveling to when this is all over. This week, we’re hearing from women with their sights set on Poland and India—I’ll let them take it from here!
Lydia S.: Hi ladies, my name is Lydia. I am based in Beaufort, South Carolina, and once travel reopens I am excited to return to Jaipur, India, to be with the man I love.
Karolina Z.: My name is Karolina. I’m Polish, however I’m currently based in Florida. On the last podcast, a couple of you mentioned that one of the first trips you’re going to do is just simply to your hometowns, visiting your friends and your family. And I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do because I haven’t seen my family for over a year, so hello, Poland. That’s going to be my first trip.
Suzanne G.: Hey, this is Suzanne from Omaha. So I have a silly goal to see all five rhino species in the wild and I know this is going to be very difficult once we get to the last couple. But I’m hoping beyond hope that my first trip back out there will be to Kaziranga National Park in India. I was on a three-week photo safari last year before COVID-19 really amped up and the pandemic caught up to us as we were going into week three. We had to leave the country and I never got the chance to see those Indian rhinos. I know I shouldn’t complain, I saw some incredibly beautiful parts of India. The wildlife was spectacular, we had unbelievable food, and I met some really great people. My tour group all made it home safe to our different parts of the world and nobody got COVID—but my trip was incomplete and I just feel it in my soul.
MC: Thanks Steph and Jess for joining us, and thanks to everyone who sent in their big trip ideas for 2021. If you want to hear yourself on an upcoming episode of Women Who Travel, send a voice memo with your name, where you’re from, and where you’re going when it’s safe to get back out there, to [email protected]. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @womenwhotravel, join our Facebook group, and subscribe to the newsletter. We’ll talk to you next week.
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